Chomsky visit quick, well-attended

by Joe Carlson

Controversial sociopolitical theorist Noam Chomsky arrived at the Great Hall in Coffman Memorial Union on Tuesday afternoon with five minutes of downtime to collect his thoughts before speaking to an assembled crowd of more than 800.
The University was but one short stop in his rigidly scheduled visit to Minnesota, but even two hours with him was more than satisfying for many present.
“The man is brilliant,” said Scott Cramer, a local businessman who brought Chomsky gifts from his shop. “He understands the world in a way that is not commonly broadcast.”
After the lecture, which was titled “Democracy and Rights: Reflections on the Current Scene,” Chomsky was briefly engulfed in a throng of inspired listeners and flashing cameras at the foot of the podium before escaping through a side exit to his next event.
Chomsky, a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, is a world-renowned linguist, philosopher and political analyst. One reason for Chomsky’s broad popularity is that he discusses important issues that are often overlooked by the mass media.
“He’s bringing up stuff that needs to be discussed more,” said Ryan Carey, manager of two area Starbucks coffee shops.
“The media are busy selling the Hallmark-card version of how the world is, and this guy is telling how it really is,” he said.
One example of this is the United States’ commitment to establishing supposedly democratic governments in foreign nations such as Haiti, Chomsky said.
“It’s interesting that democracy is equated with the takeover of the people of a country,” Chomsky said, referring to the 1990 Haitian democratic elections.
While American mass media accounts hailed the success of free Haitian elections, Chomsky said he questioned how truly democratic they were.
“There were free elections, but they came out wrong” as the United States saw it, Chomsky said. The candidate the United States supported in the election lost because of local grass-roots activity. The problem was that although the winner, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, supported a democratic political system, it was not the kind of democracy American leaders had in mind.
“The United States moved at once to cut off the democratic regime,” Chomsky said, “and it was immediately cut off.”
Three years later, Aristide was reinstated as president, but only after receiving “a crash course in democracy and capitalism” from the United States, Chomsky added.
“But those matters don’t enter history as recorded by the victors,” he said.
Chomsky pointed to Haiti as an example of how the U.S. government’s stated goal of promoting true democracy throughout the world is largely hypocritical. He went on to discuss what he considers to be the roots of democracy in America: James Madison and the constitutional debates of 1787.
He said that although records of the debates show that Madison aimed to establish a democratic system, that system would be dependent on making sure that property-owners became representatives in the government.
“The basic task that Madison faced,” Chomsky said, “was to ensure that the actual rulers will be the opulent minority,” who controlled wealth. This system has given rise to the modern corporation, Chomsky said, which is “the inverse of democratic power.”
About 150 years ago, corporations were run by all of their employees, Chomsky said, but over time they came to be operated by small boards of directors commanding enormous influence.
“By 1890, three-fourths of the wealth of the country was controlled by corporations,” Chomsky said. “And I should say that today that margin is far more narrow.”
Chomsky’s speech was presented by the College of Liberal Arts and The Program in Human Rights and Medicine.